Fern Hill (1961; revised 1965, 1999)




1961 original version for mezzo soprano, chorus, and chamber ensemble
Chorus and orchestra



Chorus and orchestra


Mezzo voice, SATB Chorus, flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, harp, strings


16 minutes

commissioned by


Todd Braden, boy soprano, National Symphony and Choral Arts Society of Washington under Leonard Slatkin, Kennedy Center, Washington DC (March 11, 1999)

Program note

I first encountered Dylan Thomas’ work in 1959, my last undergraduate year at Columbia College. It was a revelation. Both the sound and structures of Thomas’s words were astonishingly musical. Not by accident, either: “What the words meant was of secondary importance; what matters was the sound of them...these words were as the notes of bells, the sounds of musical instruments," he wrote in his Poetic Manifesto of 1951. I was irresistibly drawn to translate his music into mine.

One poem captivated me: Fern Hill, about the poet’s “young and easy" summers at his family’s farm of the same name. I wanted to write this work as a gift for my high-school music teacher, Mrs. Bella Tillis, who first encouraged my musical ambitions. She introduced Fern Hill with piano accompanying her (and, once, my) school choir.

Fern Hill is a blithe poem, yet touched by darkness; time finally holds the poet “green and dying," but the poem itself, formally just an ABA song extended into a wide arch, sings joyously of youth and its keen perceptions. I set it for mezzo-soprano solo, chorus, and orchestra, aiming to match the forthright lyricism of the text. (The direction “with simplicity" is everywhere in the printed score.)

– John Corigliano


American Choral Music: Ives, Copeland, Foss, Perischetti, Corigliano

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